Two weeks ago, my sister asked this season's first, “what do you want for Mother's Day?”
Mother's Day is a big business. Greeting cards, brunches, champagne toasts, jewelry, spa treatments, flowers, mugs from the paint-your-own-pottery place. The intention is valid, even admirable: to honor mothers and the work they do raising children.
Except this year, when my sister asked what I might want for Mother's Day, I did not think of the potential flower arrangements, necklaces with children's birth stones, or sappy greeting cards that were supposed to honor the hours and attention I give to my children. It's counter-intuitive, really, given that raising children can be exhaustive work with only emotional fulfillment as its reward. But raising my children is not what I recently find so exhausting.
No, what I recently find exhausting and what I thought of instead of the potential gifts I might reap is that in 45 states, 944 provisions have been introduced that would limit women's reproductive health and rights. I thought of how Arizona, now declares by law that pregnancy begins up to two weeks before conception - “from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman.” So for Arizona, life begins before an egg is even fertilized, which by extension then means every woman in Arizona is pregnant the first two weeks of her monthly cycle. This is purely to limit abortion rights, but it just made the Sex Education taught in the public schools that much more confusing. No matter though, because while the most effective way to reduce teen pregnancy and abortion is through education in the public schools, several states introduced bills that would forbid anything but abstinence education or stipulate that certain “facts” must be taught, even if these “facts” aren't facts at all or have any medical or scientific basis. Abstinence education, as we know, is very good at telling women not to get pregnant by not having sex or to protect themselves from getting sexually abused or raped. It's also good for perpetuating sexist and traditional gender roles since when an unplanned pregnancy happens, it's the woman's life it impacts or education that gets derailed. It's lousy for educating or empowering men to take responsibility for themselves in preventing rapes, sex abuses, or unwanted pregnancies.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Walker repealed the comprehensive sex education laws only to replace it with an abstinence only one. He signed legislation to restrict abortion rights in health care exchanges and require doctors to “investigate women” seeking abortions to make sure they aren't being coerced (because it's such a big decision – surely a woman can't work this one out by herself). Then Walked signed a bill to nullify enforcement of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay for Women Act. So he may want women to have children, but he doesn't want to help them support the children his laws encourage.
I also thought of how many friends I have that since becoming mothers, they were passed over for promotions and raises – all because of the perception, that because of their family life, they would be less “available” or “committed” or “reliable” or “serious” at work, even though all solid evidence points to the contrary. Or the women who receive inadequate maternal leaves, so they go back to work after two or six weeks, as if they were out for a root canal rather than the act of having a baby. I thought of how women, on average, make 77 cents for each dollar that men make and that number drops to 73 if a woman is a mother. If that mother is single, the number drops further to 60 cents. Mothers are also 79% less likely to be hired compared to non-mothers with the same education and experience. Given that having a baby is one of the leading causes of a poverty spell for a family in this country, it seems we might want to point our attention to empowering women to provide for the families politicians think they should be having.
Then I thought of how every 90 seconds, or in other words, 1,000 women a day, die from a pregnancy related death. 90% of these are preventable and 50% of these happen in the first 48 hours after delivery. The US ranks 50th in the world for maternal health.
The US also spends 30 cents of every dollar on the military, while only 4 cents goes towards education. So while the US has figured out how to monetize the killing of people, and even the incarcerating of people, we haven't figured out how to monetize the raising and education of people, and therefore, it falls to the bottom of the financial priority list.
I could go on about the recent injustices aimed at mothers and women, but I don't know that I need to. You get the idea, and that there's enough for me to say that to live in a country so actively limiting the rights of women and mothers on an almost daily basis – to such extent of 944 provisions in the first three months of 2012 alone – that Mother's Day feels like a cheap-drug-store-bought consolation prize of an acknowledgment.
A champagne toast brunch is a tempting way to spend a May Sunday morning; a boat ride on the lake in Central Park is an exquisitely tempting way to spend a morning having my parenting energies acknowledged. But I don't want it, because it's meaningless in a culture that doesn't put its attention and money where its mouth is.
No, what I want for Mother's Day is to live in a culture that values women and mothers and empowers them to be the best mothers they can be, and that means empowering them to decide for themselves when and how to give birth and how best to provide for their families, instead of leaving it up to a bunch of white guys to decide for them. Until then, I have no interest in a holiday that essentially is a band-aid for the rest of the year.